We all know that adding children to a family likely means losing sleep (and lots of it). But new research, coming from The American Academy of Neurology and Georgia Southern University, confirms that women who have children in the house get less sleep than those that don’t.
If your jaw isn’t hitting the floor yet, just wait. I know that’s not much of a shocker. But here’s the part that probably will elicit some … feelings: According to the study, while women are losing major shut-eye during those early child-rearing years, the precious sleep cycles of men don’t appear to be disturbed by having children in the house. Like, at all.
Are you rage-grinding your teeth yet, ladies?
The research, which surveyed 5,805 people across the U.S. via phone interviews, asked both men and women about their sleep habits — how long they slept, how many days they felt tired in the past month, etc. Researchers also gathered information about each participant’s age, race, number of children, and even exercise routines. They also looked at things like snoring, and other factors known to disturb healthy sleeping habits.
But out of the 2,908 women surveyed who were 45 and younger, the only common link to not getting enough sleep was having kids in the home. A substantial 62 percent of women reported not getting enough sleep, or less than six hours a night, which was the study’s standards. The study also determined that the likelihood of insufficient sleep increased for each child added to the family.
But the most interesting part of the study — or maddening part, depending on how you look at it — is the fact that Dad’s sleep cycles are not being disturbed in the same ways as women’s.
“I think these findings may bolster those women who say they feel exhausted,” said lead study author Dr. Kelly Sullivan in a statement. “Our study found not only are they not sleeping long enough, they also report feeling tired throughout the day.”
Well, I didn’t need a study to tell me that moms are exhausted — or at least, that I’m exhausted. My kids are well past infancy, but at least one of them still wakes nightly. Last night, my two-and-half-year-old would only sleep with his head and torso firmly planted in my back. If I tried to gently shift him to the center of the bed, or (God forbid) take him back into his room, he revolted in a way that I just didn’t feel like dealing with at 4 AM, even if it meant laying awake the rest of the night.
On most nights (because my son’s sleep habits are still shotty), I definitely fall into the 62 percent of women who do not get enough sleep camp. But I have to say, I’m still surprised by the results of the research. Perhaps more than I should be.
I guess I was hopeful that most men out there are at least waking up to offer some kind of support when their wives are struggling with a wakeful child or baby. Call me a mean wife, but I’ve often woken my own husband up and demanded he take the baby when I can’t handle it anymore. Back when I was nursing, I’d ask him to get up and bring the baby to me and take him back to bed so that I could try and rest and not fully wake up. The reason was not because I felt he should be exhausted the next day, but because I was trying to keep two tiny people alive, nursing an infant, recovering from delivery, and dealing with the hormone dump and all of the other lovely things that come with postpartum. Getting at least a few hours of shut-eye a night was a necessary component to not completely losing my mind.
But I don’t want to go blaming dads too quickly on this one. The study didn’t actually say why moms weren’t getting enough sleep, and whether they had wakeful babies or older children coming into their rooms. The only common link it showed was that the sleepless moms all have children in the house. I can think of another common link between mothers with kids, too, and that’s that moms tend to worry. Maybe not all moms, but even when my own kids are sleeping soundly, worry definitely keeps me awake more so than it does my husband.
Sleep is certainly a crucial part of overall health, and other recent studies have shown that women actually need more of it than men anyway. But maybe this is a wake-up call for moms to ask for a little more help on all fronts — not just in the late hours of the night, or the wee hours of the morning. Parents who help each other make happier people and better role models. So here’s hoping this new research will be a stepping stone towards getting moms the help (and the rest) they need.